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Letter: Community Council Steering Committee Responds

Well, this is awkward.

You know that thing a group of us said about the San Lorenzo Valley needing a community council?  

It seems that quite a few of you agree. More than 200 of our friends and neighbors have already signed a petition supporting the formation of a San Lorenzo Valley Community Council. More than 50 of those signers also took the next step to join a Steering Committee that is engaging with our County Supervisor’s office to discuss the group’s thoughts around structure, mission, and authority.

In that group, we are addressing the issues that are unique to living in a rural, unincorporated community. We are sharing the pros and cons of different models of regulatory authority and what features we think might work for the valley. There are many approaches to consider.

But that’s not the awkward part.

What’s awkward is a small group of individuals who have chosen not to engage in this discussion but instead want to wag their finger from afar with paternalistic admonitions of “right idea, wrong approach.”

The opponents of the community advisory concept seem to think that the part of our proposal that is “disturbing in scope” is that it may not always seek to support our local elected officials. They go on to suggest that if every council vote isn’t unanimous the discussion would serve no purpose in providing community input on important topics.

These “dire” warnings are just red herrings.

An advisory council should not be a rubber stamp supporting every action our local elected officials make. Indeed, other advocacy organizations in the San Lorenzo Valley – of which I note many of the letter’s signatories are members – make it their missions to “empower people, providing them with the skills and support to take stands and make changes.”

An advisory council does not need to achieve unanimous consensus to meet its goals. Having discussions about contentious issues that result in split votes also helps to educate local valley communities so that they better understand the issues that may impact them. Split votes are great information for Supervisors and state legislators because it warns them to proceed with caution or that they may need to improve their community outreach to increase support.

That’s how the political process is supposed to work.

What’s not working right now is the lack of transparency with which decisions affecting the Valley are getting made – even by those advocacy organizations who attempt to represent the opinions of the valley today.

This group even went so far as to state that the idea is meritorious enough that they’d like to explore it – on their own. Apparently, suggesting that the current Supervisor may not have been visible and engaged on issues of importance to our community is a line not to be crossed.

The letter’s signatories provided a laundry list of Supervisor McPherson’s accomplishments as evidence that our thinking around why a council is needed is faulty.

But that’s the entire point. Every elected official can point to a list of accomplishments – that does not mean they are above criticism where appropriate. It comes with the job. 

To suggest that merely because Supervisor McPherson testified regarding the fire safe changes being proposed by the Board of Forestry that CZU fire families are now able to rebuild is a pretty shocking misread of both the facts and ground truth in our communities. 

The facts show that the Board of Forestry has yet to act on the proposed fire safe regulations that were considered at its June 22 public hearing. Therefore, there’s no way to know whether these regulatory changes will materially affect our communities. The truth on the ground is also at odds with the blythe suggestion that all obstacles have been cleared for victims to rebuild. Some fire families expressed dismay at the letter’s dramatic oversimplification of the challenges they’ve faced with the county and the failures in leadership that are compounding their concerns.

One CZU fire victim whose home burned on the north coast has already been told that they will not be approved to rebuild because the private road their property is on must be improved – an impossibly high cost for the low-income community to shoulder.

But a council could also be a place where Supervisor McPherson could come to educate our community about the steps his office did take and the testimony he provided. In other words, it does not have to act merely as an advisory body but as a community forum open to a broad cross-section of SLV residents who want to offer their feedback or learn about a particular issue. Today the only venues through which an elected leader can connect with valley residents are through the organizations we have voluntarily joined. But if one is not already a member of those churches, or clubs, or advocacy groups they may not have the same access to that leader and their information. A community council democratizes access to leadership.

To the letter signatories, I invite you to join our discussion. We may not see eye to eye on the reasons a council is needed, but you’ve already acknowledged the idea to have some potential benefits. The only radical concept our group is wedded to is the need for real transparent collaboration in our valley – the mode can take many forms. Indeed the council concept is in its infancy.

Our first meeting with Supervisor McPherson will be in September. We invite you to join our steering committee to share your thoughts on what this council might look like and how it could be organized.

Let’s start a real open dialogue with our community, about our community, instead of just exchanging “open” letters.


SLV Community Council Steering Committee Members 

Jayme Ackemann
Lisa Rosato 
Christina Wise
Susi Cronk 
Debbie Rice 

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